Government fails people with learning difficulties regarding health checks

The government is failing to offer people with learning difficulties optional health checks over a year after pledging to do so, Community Care has learned.

The news follows initial findings from a Disability Rights Commission inquiry showing people with learning difficulties are more likely to experience some serious physical illnesses than other people and face inequalities in primary health services (news, 17 November, page 7).

Last November’s public health white paper Choosing Health said the government would offer disabled people the option of taking up a ‘health stock-take’ and would “shortly consult on proposals to do so”.

But there has been no formal consultation and no such checks have been offered to anyone with learning difficulties, despite the fact that the proposal was trailed in a 2003 Department of Health policy paper, Building on the best.

And Rob Greig, national director for learning disabilities at the DH, said a target, set in the 2001 Valuing People white paper, for all people with learning difficulties to have a ‘health action plan’ by June 2005, had not been met.

“The Department of Health needs to get its act together on [the health checks] and do what they have said they would do,” said David Congdon, head of policy and campaigns at learning difficulties charity Mencap. “We know that people with learning difficulties have lots of unmet health needs and there’s lots of evidence that if you do the health checks you can do something about them.”

He called for the health action plan target to be made into a performance indicator for the NHS to ensure that it was met.

Simone Aspis, development officer at the British Council of Disabled People, a representative body for organisations controlled by disabled people, said people with learning difficulties should be offered the checks as a priority due to their increased experience of ill health.


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